Laboratories of Democracy: San Francisco voters rank their candidates. It’s made politics a little less nasty.

By LEE DRUTMAN  |  July 31, 2019

In place since: 2002

The problem:

In March 2002, San Franciscans were ready for some new voting rules. The city had long used a two-round runoff system for elections, which usually meant a second round in December to get a majority winner. Voters were tired by then. Taxpayers complained of the cost.

San Franciscans had experienced runoffs in 2000 and 2001, with turnout declines of 51 percent and 44 percent, respectively. Six of the past eight city elections had asked voters to come back to the polls a month later to ensure all city office holders won a majority of votes.

So voters approved Proposition A and became the first US city to adopt instant-runoff voting in the modern era. A coalition of good-government reformers and progressive politicians got behind the voting system, a variation on a system that 24 US cities (including New York City and nearby Sacramento) had adopted between 1915 and 1948 in an earlier era of municipal reform.

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